The United States Soccer Federation (USSF), aka U.S. Soccer, announced last week that the U.S. Men’s National Team and the U.S. Women’s National Team will wear rainbow-colored numbers during June, LGBT pride month, saying in part,
“In recognition of LGBTQ Pride month in June, U.S. Soccer will activate a number of initiatives in partnership with the You Can Play Project”…As the highlight, the U.S. Men’s and Women’s National Teams will wear pride-inspired rainbow numbers during the June friendlies. The MNT will debut the look for the World Cup Qualifying tune-up against Venezuela on June 3 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. The WNT will wear the kits in away friendlies against Sweden on June 8, and Norway three days later.”
The league, in short, is forcing players to make a political statement and support a cause they may, in fact, not support. Ethics foul. This is an abuse of the players’ autonomy and freedom of though.and speech. It is also unfair, and disrespectful of them as individuals. Other professional sports are equally abusive. Over Memorial Day weekend, for example, all Major League Baseball teams are wearing military-themed uniforms, caps and equipment, with stars symbolizing the five branches of the armed services on the sleeves. The uniforms will be auctioned off with the proceeds donated to veterans’ charities. It is a lovely gesture by MLB, but what if a player doesn’t want to support the military? What if he’s a pacifist? What if he objects to American militarism or the defense budget? Apparently none of this matters to the teams or their sport.
This abuse of power, which is exactly what it is, is fueled by The Saint’s Excuse, #13 on the Rationalizations List, also known as “It’s for a good cause.”
Nor can players decline to participate in these forced political and social statements on principle, at least not without serious repercussions. If a U.S. Soccer player refused to knuckle under to the mandatory gay pride display, he or she would be immediately labelled a bigot by the media, members of the public, and perhaps team members. A baseball player who refused to salute the armed forces would be branded un-American. In either case, the principled player would be prevented from taking the field, entailing a loss of pay and probably a suspension.
This particular form of oppressive and unethical employment practice was the catalyst for one of my first ethics stands, when I worked at Georgetown University. Te university’s practice was to formally and aggressively urge all of its employees to pledge to a national charity drive that the school supported. The school wanted to make a flashy pledge every year, and not only did my direct superior pressure me to give at a proscribed level, but I was also told that I was expected to pressure my staff into participating as well.
I refused. I said that my decision regarding what charities I chose to contribute to was my own. I said that it was inappropriate and an abuse of power for my supervisor to pressure me to make a pledge, as it was an implied threat and coercion. (He had told me that his supervisor would judge him according to how successful he was at strong-arming his staff.) I also said that I would not solicit my staff, for the same reason that I was not joining the university in its favored charity. I worked there several more years, and I was never approached about the charity drive again. Neither was anyone under my supervision.
The same issue arose when I was working for a large Washington, D.C. association several years later. The executive director was on the board of Christmas in April, a local charity, and made it clear to the staff that we all were expected to give up a Saturday and chip in as the organization cleaned up an inner city playground and park, because board members traditionally recruited their organization to participate in the charity’s projects. Again, I declined. He pressed me for an explanation, and I told him that I had my own non-profit groups that I volunteered my time for, and that he had no right to volunteer my time for me. I offered him what I felt was a fair and reasonable compromise: if he would do tech work on one of my local theater productions on an hour for hour basis, I’d be happy to give up a Saturday for his pet cause. He declined, and wasn’t nice about it.
He also hated my guts for the rest of our relationship.
No, this is not like requiring Colin Kaepernick to stand for the National Anthem when he has decided that the United States oppresses black citizens. Participating in that long-standing tradition at games was a well-understood obligation when he signed to be an NFL player; it wasn’t a political or social position imposed on him after the fact.
Neither sports teams, nor corporations, nor charities nor the government have any business or right to dictate what their employees’ speech, beliefs, loyalties or passions are. As I found out, once one employee takes that stand, other employees realize that they shouldn’t submit to this u7nethiacl use of power either.
That was another reason that executive director hated my guts.
And now, Leslie Gore…